This is going to be a historic general election, possibly the most important since 1945. Of course, Brexit will feature but it will be a failure of historic magnitude if the campaign does not progress to focus on the serious domestic, global, social and economic challenges that face our countries. It is vital that we make it about more than Brexit.
In this election in Wales there will be siren nationalist and populist voices proposing a scourge on Westminster and the Union. We may also see an opportunist alliance between Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems. This may have some superficial appeal, but our Labour approach must instead be to promote a progressive agenda of radical reform with social justice, equality and economic regeneration at its heart.
There are issues at stake in this election that may determine the type of society we want to be and the legacy our children and grandchildren will inherit. Whoever has the vision to win the battle for hearts and minds of the people is likely to win – and this is will be Jeremy Corbyn’s strength.
In recent decades, we have become one of the most unequal societies in Europe. Unrestrained inequality is destroying our democracy. Our modern taxation policy, determined predominantly by the rich and for the rich, has been based on a global race to the bottom for corporation tax and inheritance tax.
We are a society which has increasingly shifted the social tax burden onto working people while the top couple of percent pay little (or, sometimes, no) tax, exploit tax havens abroad and manipulate the tax system for their own benefit.
It should come as no surprise that so much of Tory economic policy has focused on reducing the tax “burden” for the wealthiest, in the hope that a smidgeon of their wealth will trickle down to the rest of us. There is no sign of them shifting from this failed approach in this election.
The future of our NHS has never been more at risk from corporate greed through privatisation – which in England is already worth £70 billion a year. The US trade deal Boris Johnson and the Tories are promoting can only be achieved by reducing workers’ rights and environmental protections. They claim that such a deal won’t include the NHS. This is cannot be. The US government’s own trade deal objectives make it clear that all public services are to be included.
We already have the evidence of secret UK government discussions on workers’ rights and collaboration with the American pharmaceutical industry. A Tory trade deal along these lines would sell off the NHS to corporate interests.
Devolution alone is unlikely to be sufficient protect the Welsh NHS from the impact of the worst excesses of a ‘Tory TTIP’. They have started the privatisation process in England and their trade deal will open the door to selling off much of what is left elsewhere too.
Trump’s unprecedented intervention in our election to support Johnson and Farage also sends a shot across the bows: it was a warning that he will not tolerate a trade deal based on a ring-fenced NHS and socio-economic standards which could disadvantage US corporate interests. This alliance between Johnson and Trump, what the trade deal would mean for our economy and the drive to privatise the NHS could be game changers in this election.
Climate action will also be one of the top issues, of particular and growing importance to the younger generation and many first time voters. Fracking has been banned in Wales and Labour will ban it across the UK, while pursuing a strident renewable energy policy starting with support for the Swansea Tidal Lagoon.
The Tory energy agenda has been based mainly on nuclear, fracking and imported gas. As LSE academic Abby Innes writes, “Conservative governments since 2015 have systematically dismantled the policies put in place under the Climate Change Act of 2008 and increased public spending on fossil fuels.”
Another, perhaps less obvious, issue could be constitutional reform and the survival of the Union. If Johnson was to win then this could well be the last ever UK-wide general election. Johnson has already disregarded the Sewel Convention and clearly has little understanding of, or interest in, devolution.
The Tories are increasingly a recentralising party and will seek to recalibrate centralised control through financial measures such as the so-called ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’. Labour must tackle this head-on by committing to a needs-based financial settlement for all the regions and governments of the UK, and establishing a constitutional convention.
For the UK to continue to exist, Labour must re-establish a progressive agenda of reform. This must include a fairer distribution of wealth, and a new constitutional framework based on a voluntary union of nations.
Finally, a genuine commitment to bring an end to austerity should be at the core of Labour policy. It must include support and funding for public services and the NHS, as well as a recommitment to workers’ rights and an investment programme funded through ending corporate tax avoidance and a fairer broader tax regime.
We have lived through the chaos of a Tory Brexit and there is little to be gained from spending the next five years debating a Welsh nationalist imitation. Internationalism is about breaking down barriers, not putting them up. It’s right that Labour should stand on a platform of continued engagement with Europe and a real choice for the people in a second referendum – which will only happen with the election of a Labour government.
This election will be a choice between a radical, reforming Labour government and a right-wing Johnson administration. As long as we stay true to our principles we can win. That is the Welsh Labour way.